Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Crazy Idea

One of my most favourite parts of the Olympics are the Opening Ceremonies.  Out of all the things in Vancouver, it is the one that I really wish I had tickets for.  When I started planning this trip last year, I had to decide what duration of the Olympics I wanted to attend.  My first choice was the beginning of the Games because I really wanted to attend the Opening Ceremonies.  After giving it some thought, I realized that if I was there when the Olympics started, I would never be able to leave half way through to come home and staying for the entire 16 days was financially out of the question.  I made the decision to arrive in Vancouver for the second half of the Olympics.  I would see the Closing Ceremonies and leave when everything was done.  I could come home without feeling like I was leaving the action behind.

A few weeks ago, when Phase 3 tickets were postponed to November 14th, an idea began to form in my mind.  What if I could get just one ticket for me to the Opening Ceremony?  If I could, I would fly into Vancouver the night before and leave the following day.  This is of course assuming one of my Vancouver friends would allow me to crash at one of their places for a few nights.  Is that totally insane?  Of course it is, but that just goes to show you the level of my Olympic addiction.  This way, everything I ever wanted to see at the Olympics I would be going to.  Sadly, I was not able to obtain a ticket.  There were seats available but $1100 and $750 are way out of my price range.  So my original trip plans stand, we will leave Toronto middle of February and attend the second half of Vancouver 2010.  I am very happy with that.

I have not given up on trying to get an Opening Ceremony ticket.  If it is meant to be, then I will be there.  If it is not, then it will happen some other time.  I am lucky to have the events that we are already going to.  The Opening Ceremony would have just been a nice bonus.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Canadians Snapping Up Vancouver 2010 Apparel

I visited my friendly neighbourhood Bay store earlier today.  I wanted to see if they had any Vancouver 2010 keychains I could add to my collection.  I didn't find what I was looking for, I'll have to order some Vancouver 2010 keychains online, but what I did see surprised me.  The area in the Bay store dedicated to Vancouver 2010 merchandise was packed!  There were a ton of people trying on Olympic apparel and standing in line to make a purchase. 

Vancouver 2010 Canada Hoody available at The Bay and Zellers

When the line was released back in September I rushed right out to see what the Bay had to offer.  I purchased the White Canada Hoody for $50.  Even back then, most of the red hoody's were gone and I got the last medium at that store.  That kind of mirrors what I saw today.  Those same hoodys were down to almost nothing.  Red and white were completely gone and Black only had a few select sizes left.
I contemplated buying a long sleeve tee but will leave it for now.  I have quite a collection of Canada gear to wear and now need to focus attention on establishing a pin collection, a long and outstanding tradition at the Games is to trade pins.  Having never been before I only found out this tidbit of information recently.  I am on the prowl for Olympic pins.  I would also like to take a bunch of the Canadian flag pins to hand out to people I meet from other countries.  The next few weeks will be spent scouring souvenir shops for these Canadian pins and shopping for the best price.
The Bay stores I have been to do not have the Pins, Keychains and other items for sale.  There is an online Bay store where you can purchase those items if like me, you now need to buy Vancouver 2010 souvenirs other than clothing.
It was really cool to see the frenzy over Canada Olympic apparel today in that store.  Looks like Olympic fever is spreading and Canada is on board! I can't wait to see all the Canada logo merchandise being worn around town and at the Olympics in Vancouver.  I have never felt so proud to be Canadian and am totally ready to show off my Canadian spirit and pride.  Judging from today, looks like I'm not the only one!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Funding an Olympic Games

Last year when the idea for this trip was still in the early planning stages, I didn’t really give much thought to how much the whole thing would cost. For awhile I wasn’t sure if we were even going to go after getting tickets for two events and facing long term unemployment. That changed earlier this year. After starting a new job and getting more tickets, it was time to proceed with the rest of the planning; securing a place to stay and getting transportation out to Vancouver. As much as some of the plans have stressed me out, it has been kind of fun.

This trip however is not without its sacrifices. One of things people are most curious about is how much it is costing me. For a variety of reasons, I long ago decided not to reveal costs to anyone. My parents don’t even know how much everything really is. Between you and me, the truth is, this isn’t really a trip that I can afford to go on. It is a huge effort to pay for everything plus cover my regular everyday living expenses. As much as I’ve set budgets and stayed within them, it’s still quite a huge chunk of change. The money has to come from somewhere and I will be paying this off for a long time to come. It’s mostly my social life and shopping that is taking the hit. I’ve spent more weekends at home than ever and I am staying away from malls so I’m not tempted to spend money in them. Any extra cash is being set aside for trip expenses. I’m even considering getting a second job to help out the money situation. I don’t mind altering my lifestyle for the sake of my trip. The experience of Vancouver 2010 will be unlike anything I’ve ever had the privilege to attend. It will no doubt be a very special and thrilling experience. And these are the things that must be done so that can happen.

I never expected that seeing an Olympics was ever in the realm of possibilities for me. I’ve gotten some attention from journalists who have wanted to talk to me about this experience for stories they are writing. One of the things they ask is why this is special to me. It’s really hard for me to describe why it is. I guess one of the reasons is that I never thought someone ordinary like me could go see the Olympics. I always thought tickets would cost a thousand dollars and I wouldn’t be able to afford to see anything let alone all the events I have tickets for. It’s so special to me because an everyday, ordinary person like me, through a lot of planning, determination and lifestyle adjustments, can (somewhat) afford tickets to Vancouver 2010, hunt down a condo in a city where no hotel rooms are to be found, and book a flight for February 2010 nine months in advance. And really, there is nothing in my regular life that would draw attention from journalists, so that in itself makes it pretty special! I can’t wait to see who I get an email from next. All I know is that if it’s possible for me, it’s possible for many others like me. I am looking forward to meeting those people next year in Vancouver. It will be pretty exciting to be surrounded by people who love the Olympics as much as I do. It’s been exciting up to this point and I’m not even in Vancouver yet. I can’t wait to see what else the future brings.

A copy of this post can also be found on Inside Vancouver, www.insidevancouver.ca.

Monday, November 16, 2009

I'm in The Washington Post!

Awhile ago I spoke to a journalist who was writing a story on finding accommodations for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. The story below is what appeared this past weekend in the Travel section of The Washington Post. You'll find the part about me at the very end of the article.
Its really exciting to me to be included in such an article.  I've never been in a paper before in my life! 
This was the second time I had been approached by someone doing a story on finding places to stay for the Olympics.  It is a topic that has a lot of interest.  It was one of the most challenging aspects of our trip.  If money is not a concern, there are more options available to you, but to someone like me on a tight budget, it was pretty difficult.  But I am  not one to settle for anything.  Due to some hard work from myself and my family, I was able to find a place within my budget in the location that I wanted.  For anyone still looking for a place to stay, I sympathize with you.  It's not easy but it is possible.
Enjoy the article.

Hotel shortage sets off an Olympic scramble
By Remy Scalza
Sunday, November 15, 2009

It doesn't take a gold medal in arithmetic to see that the numbers didn't add up.
About 250,000 spectators are expected to pour into Vancouver, B.C., for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in February. Yet according to the city's Olympic committee, only a paltry 10,000 hotel rooms were available to them. With three months to go before the Opening Ceremonies, the pool of rooms at hotels in and around Vancouver -- from highway HoJos to the Four Seasons -- has essentially dried up.
"Traditional downtown accommodation is for the most part booked," says Emily Armstrong of Tourism Vancouver, the city's tourism agency. "And it's been that way for about a year."
The Olympic housing crunch is nothing new: In recent years, Athens, Salt Lake City and Turin, Italy, all faced shortages. (The micromanaged Beijing Games were a notable exception.) It's not just the massive influx of spectators that's to blame. The "Olympic family" -- the tens of thousands of officials, observers, sponsors and media who make up the official Olympic entourage -- traditionally gets first dibs on lodgings. In Vancouver, the family blocked off more than 21,000 rooms, leaving ordinary fans to scramble for the remaining 10,000.
In a bid to avert a housing crisis, the city's Olympic planners have advanced some creative solutions. The 1,100-room Norwegian Star cruise ship will dock in an industrial port north of Vancouver, serving as a floating hotel for the duration of the Games, which will run Feb. 12-28. A popular city beach has been turned into an urban RV park, and provincial campgrounds around Vancouver will open early for fans who choose to brave frigid winter nights in the great outdoors.

"Accommodating everyone has never been a concern," Armstrong says. "People will just have to be a bit more flexible."
For some fans, being flexible might require bunking with strangers. With the housing well running dry, officials have also begun steering visitors to digs normally reserved for youth travelers, free spirits and the transient: backpacker hostels. "You can't find a better deal anywhere," says Del Cook, who handles check-in at the central Vancouver branch of Hosteling International, or HI, a popular hostel just blocks from several Olympic venues. The numbers bear him out: $40 buys a dorm bunk bed for the night and free breakfast during the Games. (By comparison, the airport Comfort Inn was recently offering a rare Olympic vacancy for $465 a night.)
The hostel is on the edge of the city's pub and club district, in a zone where ethnic restaurants and glitzy bars are gradually supplanting tattoo parlors and pawnshops. Inside the busy lobby, international travelers ask for directions in halting English while hip-hop plays in the background.
"We're the best hostel in town, and I've stayed in all of them," Cook says. For those to whom the word hostel brings to mind grungy showers and pots of instant ramen bubbling away on a communal stove, HI might be a pleasant surprise. Apart from traditional dorms, there are plenty of private rooms, and daily maid service, linens and towels are part of the deal. A former hotel, the historic building also comes with a roguishly checkered past: In 1971, undercover Mounties seized a record haul of 300 pounds of Japanese pearls from businessmen staying here; they'd been stolen from Seattle's airport in a bungled plot straight out of "Fargo."
Still, the charms of HI's chill-out lounge and raucous pub crawls presumably will be lost on certain Olympic visitors. Two blocks from the hostel -- on the 29th floor of a luxury apartment building -- is an entirely different accommodation alternative.
"I've never, ever rented before," says 44-year-old Randall Weaver, who has decided to lease his one-bedroom condo to Olympics fans for the Games. "But I'm an entrepreneur. I thought if I could get some money out of the Olympics, then why not?"

Weaver is not the only homeowner hoping to cash in on the city's housing crunch. In the prelude to the Games, dozens of temporary-rental Web sites have sprung up listing thousands of private Vancouver homes, from sleek, high-rise condos like Weaver's to suburban houses.

"For Vancouver property owners with space to rent out, the Olympics are a mini gold rush," says Tsur Somerville, a professor at the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business.

But so far, Weaver has yet to hit it big. In his sunroom, with floor-to-ceiling windows that offer panoramic views of the Vancouver skyline and the snowcapped mountains beyond, he explains that his condo has been booked for only three days. At $550 a night, however, it's enough "to help with the mortgage."

If anything, his rates are a bit on the low end. One-bedroom downtown apartments are going for an average of $4,000 a week, according to Rent for the Games, a realty agency that has booked more than 400 temporary Olympic rentals and lists another 710 properties on its Web site. Hefty prices have led some fans to raise cries of price-gouging.
"People are being asked to pay exorbitant amounts," says economist Somerville. "But we're not talking about poor people who need to eat. It's not clear to me that people flying halfway around the world can be gouged."
That is cold comfort, however, for Olympic fans still searching for an elusive bed in Vancouver.

A true Olympic die-hard from Toronto, 35-year-old Christina Wallaert, remembers not only the names of the 1988 Calgary ice dancing medalists but also the background music from their programs. After securing Olympic tickets in a lottery last June, she spent six weeks scouring the Internet before finding accommodations in a downtown condo. She won't disclose the exact price, but says it was in line with prices at other rental condos in the area.
"It's more than I've ever paid to stay anywhere else," Wallaert says. "But I think we got a very good deal."

Scalza is a freelance food and travel writer based in Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics. To see more of his work, visit his website.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Brian Williams - How I love thee

For me the Olympics is synonymous with TV's Prime Time Olympic host, Brian Williams. When I saw that the Olympics had moved to CTV, I was wondering what it would be like to see an Olympics without Brian Williams. It was a little bit later on that I learned Brian had made the move to CTV. I thought that was fabulous news. I just can't imagine an Olympics without him. He was strangely absent during Beijing 2008. Those other people did a good job but it wasn't the same. Every night I turned on my TV (the same one that is not working right now) expecting to see his wonderful interviews, thoughtful opinions, and insight into our talented Canadian athletes. I really missed seeing him during those Olympics. He has a real love and appreciation for Canada as well as the athletes that are representing us in their sport.
I am so happy that Brian Williams is going to be exactly where he should be, hosting Prime Time Olympic coverage on CTV. The only thing I'm sad about is that I won't be watching as much on TV as I usually would because I will be there! That's ok though, the rest of the country can enjoy his hosting coverage and I will catch as much of it as I can.
I hereby nominate myself as President of the Brian Williams Fan Club!
For Brian's bio, check out this link to the CTV Olympic website: Brian Williams Profile

Image from CTV Olympic website.

Christina Wallaert